From Melrose Place to Westeros: The Progression of Social TV

If Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that “Winter is Coming”, and Social TV is rising.

Humble beginnings…

I remember back to the days when “Social TV” meant huddling together with your best mates to watch your favourite series on a small, somewhat fuzzy TV screen whose ‘cat whiskers’ antennae (remember those?!) always needed tweaking. We would collectively gasp when Ross declared to Rachel “but we were on a break!” or shudder when Amanda actually moved into Melrose Place.

With the rapid advance of the interwebs, TV became more social in an online sense probably during the heyday of Lost. To me, every episode would leave you feeling like it had raised more questions whilst giving you even less answers. If the water cooler chat the next day just wasn’t cutting it for you (“no Glenn you don’t understand, the polar bear being on the island does make perfect sense!”) – well then you could expand your discussion beyond the lunchroom with likeminded Losties from around the country.

Back then, The Lost Ninja was Channel 7’s official blogger about all things Lost, and my go-to for episode breakdowns and clue hints. And don’t get me started on the finale – I had to read a lot of explanatory blogs before I could come to terms with six seasons leading up to that ending!

The Game that’s got the whole world talking!

Fast forward to 2013 where Game of Thrones is not only the most watched, but also the most talked about, TV series currently on the box. The recent jaw-dropping second last episode of season three generated more than 700,000 mentions across Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums and news sites, breaking all records to be the “most social TV episode to date” (previous record holders were the premieres of Game of Thrones season three and True Blood season five).

Fans and celebrities took to online channels to express their intense shock and outrage at the ending. Analytics company mashwork claims that the volume of social media references to the show during the finale airing in the USA was 44% higher than during the premiere!

Many popular reality TV shows already capitalise on the premise that their episodes are going to generate discussion, anything from instant restaurant cooking disasters on My Kitchen Rules to debating the best renovated bathroom on The Block. Displaying an official ‘hashtag’ in the bottom corner of the screen (for example #MKR and #skyhigh) during an episode ensures the more digitally savvy viewers can link the Twitter comments they would be making anyway to the show’s own feeds. This is an insightful way for networks to measure real-time engagement levels with their flagship shows.

Power to the people

The rise of social media and ‘multi-screening’ has catapulted TV viewing into an interactive experience. There is now only one degree of separation between passionate fans expressing opinions and the creators of the shows themselves. George R. R. Martin, the author behind the book series which spawned the Game of Thrones TV empire, recently appeared on a talk show responding to clips of fan reactions to the finale. Live tweets from contestants talking about their experiences appear during on-air broadcasts of shows like Celebrity Apprentice.

From sporting events to singing contests, the power of the Social TV wave is being well harnessed locally. Where once you would have had to SMS or call to cast your vote, these days you can support your favourite artist via Facebook polls or downloading their single immediately from iTunes. Other shows encourage the public to vote for best room or dish and display real-time scores.

Many programs now offer exclusive additional content and episode catch-ups via their websites. Fiction now even ‘lives’ beyond the flatscreen. Some series even let viewers vote live on how they want an episode to end!

And if you’re the type to go into a social media blackout until after you’ve watched which beautiful people get their comeuppance in the Revenge finale, well then we have the app for you! A clever American student has created the soon-to-be released app Twivo that will allow you to block TV spoilers from appearing in your Twitter feed, allowing you to scroll safely.

Try this at home

Keen to know more about how to jump on the Social TV bandwagon but don’t know where to start? Good news! There are some great Social TV apps that simplify the process for you, letting you “check in” to a program to bring your viewing experience to life. Check out the Fango app for all things Channel 7 or use Jump-in for Channel 9 shows. If you are looking for a broader platform, Zeebox lets you roam programs from all channels (much of the Channel 10 content is on here). Plus you can see how many people are watching an episode, start a “viewing party” and chat away.

Certainly beats trying to convince non-believers the polar bears were there for a valid reason!

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